Michael Chong is one the most respected people in the country when it comes to democratic reform. He quit his cabinet position on principle, and proposed a series of thoughtful Question Period reforms in 2010, which seem all the more overdue after the Paul Calandra show we saw last week.
So when Michael Chong tables a private members bill to decentralize power away from the Prime Minister’s Office, it’s impossible to doubt his sincerety. It’s a worthy cause led by a noble champion. Another champion of democratic reform, Andrew Coyne, has praised the Reform Act saying “Parliament will never be the same again”. Here’s a summary of Coyne’s summary of the bill (the full text of which can be read here):
1. A leadership review vote could be triggered at any time on the receipt of written notice bearing the signatures of at least 15% of the members of caucus. A majority of caucus, voting by secret ballot, would be sufficient to remove the leader.
2. It would similarly empower caucus to decide whether an MP should be permitted to sit amongst their number. A vote to expel (or to readmit) would be held under the same rules as a leadership review.
3. It would remove the current provision in the Elections Act requiring any candidate for election to have his nomination papers signed by the party leader. Instead, the required endorsement would come from a “nomination officer,” elected by the members of the riding association. There would be no leader’s veto.
Coyne points to Australia as the working example of MP-initiated leadership reviews, but it’s hard to think the ongoing feud between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd was good for the Labour Party, or Australia.
The move would undoubtedly transfer more power to MPs, as would giving them the ability to kick one of their own out of caucus. But all that is being transfered are punitive powers – the opportunity to boot a leader, or a caucus member. This act would do nothing to give them a greater say in passing laws or having their opinions heard – it would merely create a group of restless MPs with no real power except the ability to turn on their leader and each other. Welcome to Survivor: Ottawa.
Removing the threat of expulsion by the leader might encourage MPs to speak their mind, but it’s important not to overstate the impact. The only two MPs booted from any caucus within the past 5 years – Peter Goldring and Helena Guergis – were forced out not because of policy differences, but because of scandal. Going back further, Bill Casey and Joe Comuzzi were removed after voting on principle, but it’s unclear if having MPs vote against their party on budgets would or should be tolerated. Garth Turner’s outster was actually brought about by a vote by members of the Conservative Party’s Ontario caucus who felt he wasn’t being enough of a team player, so I don’t buy that transfering the whip from the PMO to MPs will actually lead to more “mavericky” behaviour.
It’s possible MPs will be be able to leverage these punitive powers into real legislative power, but if the goal is to empower MPs in the House, committees, and the decision-making process, why not bring the change about directly?
However, the part of this bill that has received the least attention, but is the most problematic is giving riding associations the ultimate say in candidate veting, by having them elect a “Nomination Officer”. It’s unclear how exactly this would work, since all parties (almost always) hold nomination contests in unheld ridings and Green Light Committees vet candidates to make sure there aren’t crack videos of them floating around the Internet.
One assumes the Nomination Officer could deny an MP, or a candidate, the right to run for nomination, or could veto a candidate once nominated. This opens the possibility of an impass if the Nomination Officer nixes a candidate who has been elected by the riding, or is at odds with a potential candidate because they support someone else. Paranoia already runs deep in local politics, and you can be sure MPs concerned about a challenge would do everything in their power to ensure a friendly face is elected as the riding’s Nomination Officer. That means local ridings will spend more time fighting each other, than doing the types of things local ridings should be doing.
The thing is, there’s an exceedingly simple solution to this – open nominations, where all MPs must be re-nominated by members of the riding. This gives members a say without turning riding association board elections into Game of Thrones. Indeed, this is something Justin Trudeau has promised, so this change would either be irrelevant to Liberal nominations, or would needlessly complicate them.
Which begs the question of why Parliament needs to police political parties at all? For good reason, Parliament doesn’t set the cut-off dates, eligibility, or rules for nominations. They don’t tell parties how often to conduct leadership reviews. The parties themselves decide if they want delegated conventions, one-member-one-vote races, or a primary-style supporter system.
So although Chong’s bill may look like a step forward for democracy, its impact would be largely negligible and, in some instances, it may do more harm than good.
The Liberal Party is old.
I’m not talking about its history, but about the faces it puts before Canadians. The average age of Liberal MPs in Ottawa is 56, with Scott Andrews their youngest at 37. The second youngest is some kid named Justin, but at 41, even he’s old enough to remember most of Pierre Trudeau’s time as Prime Minister.
We all know the bizarre circumstances that led to the election of the “NDP 90210″ caucus in Quebec two years ago, but even the crusty old Conservative Party makes the Liberals look like your father’s party. Tory MPs are, on average, 3 years younger than their grit counterparts, they have 19 MPs under 40, and the last time they ran a leader older than his (or her!) Liberal counterpart was in 1974.
Part of this is no doubt because it’s harder to get fresh blood into the House of Commons when you’re shedding 30 seats every election. But the last time the Liberals gained seats, in 2000, of the 24 new MPs they elected, only Andy Savoy and Dominic Leblanc were under 40.
I recently interviewed two youngish Liberal candidates eyeing nominations – former blogging superstar Jason Cherniak (34) and former future Prime Minister Amy Robichaud (26) – and both cited Trudeau’s leadership as one of the reasons they decided to make the plunge. “I believe Justin Trudeau appeals to a new generation of Canadians,” says Cherniak. “Because of him, they are more likely to consider themselves as potential politicians”.
Why Open Nominations Matter
While that’s certainly true, it’s not like young Liberals haven’t been interested in running for office before. Back during my university days, in 2005, I came within one floor crossing of being the Liberal candidate in Calgary Southeast. The difference today is that there are actually winnable seats for young candidates to look at. With 30 new ridings and few incumbents left, the party finds itself in a “forest fire” scenario, where the devastation of the 2011 election has burned open space for new trees to take root. Moreover, the few incumbents left will be forced to fight in open nominations, something Robichaud calls “an important first step in attracting new liberals and new ideas” to the party.
The aforementioned duo are running in the fertile Liberal-red soil of the GTA, and both stand an excellent chance of winning their nominations. Cherniak has established himself as a successful lawyer, and has endorsements from former MP Byron Wilfert, MPP Helena Jaczek, and the former Mayor of Aurora. Robichaud has also secured the endorsement of her riding’s past MP, Michelle Simson, who praises her as having “intelligence, integrity and spirit”.
The “Youth Stigma”
Those endorsements speak to a cultural shift within the party, but younger candidates must fight against the stigmas of youth, during both nominations and general elections. “Age is often equated with immaturity and inexperience,” says Robichaud. “While I’m confident in the experience, knowledge, and dedication that I bring, politics is so often an arena where you only get a first impression.” Cherniak agrees, and adds that experience can sometimes “lead to inertia or bias, and stand in the way of good ideas”. Given the level of maturity and amount of stagnation we’ve seen from experienced politicians at all three levels of government in recent years, it’s hard to disagree.
One of the rare success stories the current group of young candidates can look to is former MP Navdeep Bains, who won a hotly contested Liberal nomination prior to the 2004 election, at the age of 27. I talked to Bains about his experiences, and he felt that while the community was largely supportive, there was a sense of “reluctance” by many in the party about him, due to his age. Then, as now, he feels the only way to overcome this is by winning people over via “hard work and convictions”.
Those are two things this next generation of Liberal candidates have in plentiful supply. Cherniak talks about reaching out to “Canadians who are losing faith in the system”, while Robichaud’s campaign has been all about going into the community and engaging constituents.
A Final Note of Caution
While Bains sees the value in having younger voices in Ottawa, he offers advice to prospective candidates. “There may be a romantic notion about being a member of parliament, but with a young family, there can be large demands,” he cautions. “As a father, having kids drastically changed my outlook; It became much more challenging to travel and do the job, to find the right balance.”
Wise words. Even Justin Trudeau hemmed and hawed about running for leadership, due to the demands of raising a young family. I think most Liberals, even those who had doubts about him, are glad he did. And just as Trudeau has breathed new life into an old party, the Liberal Party stands to benefit immensely from a rush of younger candidates in 2015.
They were up late counting the votes in Brandon-Souris Monday night. That, despite the fact that the final poll of the campaign showed the Liberals with a commanding 29-point lead. In the end, the Liberal vote was 16 points lower and the Tory vote was 14 points higher. It would have been a shocking result, if Forum’s reputation wasn’t such that pundits were already chuckling about that poll long before the results rolled in.
Before continuing on, I think it’s important to recognize just how far these numbers missed the mark. Some have talked about the “19 times in 20″ disclaimer at the end of every margin of error, writing this off as (yet another) 1 in 20 rogue poll. I won’t turn this into a statistics seminar, but bell curves are such that most misses should be close misses. This weather website predicts that the average high in Brandon ranges from -15 to +13 ºC nine days out of ten in November – but that doesn’t mean there was a 1 in 10 chance scrutineers would be pulling out the Bermuda shorts on election day. That tenth day is usually going to be fairly close to the range.
[MATH WARNING - READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL]
The reality is, based on Forum’s quoted margin of error and sample size, they were off by around 6 standard deviations. And based on sampling theory, the odds of that happening in a poll from a truly random sample are non-existent. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 million to 1. (So more likely than the Liberals winning Macleod, but still very unlikely)
OK, no more math. But I hope I’ve made the point that this isn’t the sort of thing that can happen by chance.
Forum President Lorne Bozinoff has his own theories:
He speculated that the difference between the final Brandon poll and the actual by-election outcome may have been that the Conservatives had a better “get out the vote” ground game than the Liberals. As well, he said some constituents who were angry about the perception of a fixed Tory nomination may have found they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Liberal once they got into the ballot box.
I absolutely agree the ground game matters. However, you won’t find anyone in politics that believes the difference between the best ground game and no ground game at all is more than 5 or 6 points. Both parties were pumping resources and volunteers into Brandon, so every door got knocked – GotV may very well have been the reason the Tories won, but it doesn’t explain a 15-point swing. If it made that kind of difference, there’s no way the NDP would have swept Quebec last election.
I can somewhat buy last second switches playing a big role in the recent Alberta and BC elections, but it shouldn’t have been an issue in Brandon – especially when Forum showed Liberal support trending up. If that was what happened, then Bozinoff is basically saying that opinion polling is worthless. Because if the electorate is actually going to swing 15 points in under 24 hours, that means a poll showing the Tories at 30% on election day means they’ll finish anywhere from Kim Campbell territory (15%), right up to a majority government of historic proportions (45%).
Instead, what we’re dealing with appears to be flawed methodology. Bozinoff has admitted that some respondents may have been called for 3 consecutive polls, and that likely wouldn’t have happened unless the response rate was in the neighbourhood of 1% (typical for robo-polls, when you don’t do callbacks). Heck, Sunday being the Grey Cup, it may have been even lower. Sampling methodology only works if you assume survey respondents are similar to the public at large – otherwise, these polls are no more accurate than the “self selecting” click polls you see on websites, asking what you think of Miley Cyrus’ antics.
The obvious solution is more regulation on the polling industry, in terms of standards and disclosure. In the absence of that, it’s up to the media to show restraint when reporting what are clearly flawed robo-polls. Yes, they’re free. Yes, they make for an interesting “news” story – and bad polls make for an especially interesting “news” story because they run counter to the common wisdom.
Polls provide information, and information is a valuable tool. However, passing off faulty information as accurate, and giving it what is clearly not a “real” margin of error is dangerous. These freebie polls have shown themselves to be no more useful than “word on the street” anecdotes, and they should not be given any more credibility than that.
Please note – part of this issue, as noted by John Wright, is a lack of disclosure. So, in the interests of full disclosure, I should remind readers that I work at a polling company, albeit one where “robocalls” are considered a four letter word.
On the surface, nothing really happened last night. The Liberals held two safe seats and the Conservatives held two safe seats. Yes, they were counting ballots until late night in Brandon, but the seating chart in the House of Commons is unchanged.
As is so often the case, most of the attention was on Eastern Canada, especially the McQuaig-Freeland battle in the centre of the Centre of the Universe. For the Liberals, the vote totals weren’t overly important, though they did increase their share of the vote in both Toronto Centre and Bourassa. For them, the key was building Team Trudeau by electing two MPs who are fresh faces, but still legitimate Cabinet material.
The news is less encouraging for the Bloc, who dropped a few points and show no signs of life following their 2011 wipeout. If the Tory spin machine is looking for talking points, well, they successfully held off a charge from the Rhinos for fourth place in Bourassa, though the Rhinos could likely have closed the 700-vote gap with a better GotV effort.
The NDP are no doubt disappointed to finish second in both ridings, but the truth is they probably dodged a bullet in Toronto Centre. A win for Linda McQuaig would have given them two weeks of positive headlines, but would have meant 2 years of headaches for Thomas Mulcair. McQuaig is very much an “old school” NDPer whose books all carry titles like “Why the rich are destroying Canada” and subtitles like “PS, I hate oil companies and Americans too“. Mulcair has taken great pains to paint the NDP as a centrist alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives, and McQuaig might prove more difficult to control than his caucus of 20-somethings from Quebec.
More disconcerting for Mulcair is what happened in Manitoba last night. Unlike the two eastern seats, there was no expectation the NDP would win, but they lost more than half their vote in both ridings, falling to third behind the Liberals. Brandon can perhaps be excused – there were clearly local dynamics in play, and Dinsdale’s last name carries some cachet. Provencher was a more boring race, but that makes the result more worrisome. Last election, voters dissatisfied with Stephen Harper went NDP over Liberal by a 2:1 ratio. This time, they went Liberal over NDP by nearly a 4:1 ratio.
I wouldn’t extrapolate out very far. Kevin Lamoureux won one of the safest NDP seats in the country for the Liberals in a November 2010 by-election, and we all know what happened 6 months later. But 30% in two small town Prairie ridings is nothing to sneeze at for the Liberals. Especially when you toss in their strong showing in Calgary Centre last year. For the first time in a long time, there’s reason to believe that Western Canada might not be an abysmal wasteland for the Liberal Party. On a largely “status quo” evening, that’s fantastic news for team Trudeau.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper had no idea his staff had asked the Conservative Party to pay Sen. Mike Duffy’s ineligible expenses, his spokesperson said Sunday.
In an interview with CTV’s Question Period, Harper’s director of communications, Jason MacDonald, also said Harper didn’t know PMO staff wanted a Senate report into Duffy’s expenses sanitized, or that the party’s chief fundraiser tried to influence the independent audit of Duffy’s claims.
The problem for Stephen Harper is that, regardless of where the truth lies, he has built his reputation as a micromanager, and it now strains credibility to suggest he did not know what was going on.
Spotted by alert reader RC in a Boston Staples.
“You know what, I’m not perfect.. Maybe you are, but I’m not.”
Rob is right. We should all cut the guy some slack. After all, who among us hasn’t smoked crack and lied about it, been charged with drunk driving and lied about, continued to drive drunk after the fact, assaulted employees, purchased illegal drugs, made homophobic and racist comments on video, been accused of sexual harrasment, hung out with drug dealers, given a mother the finger from your car, threatened to kill someone while high, been charged with assault and making death threats, charged with possession of marijuana, been disowned by Santa Claus and the Toronto Argonauts, compared orientals to dogs, had their wife call 911 on them, and been kicked out of a Leafs game.
It’s no wonder his brother is now comparing him to Jesus.
We got a good reminder today of why it would be foolish to write off the Conservatives in 2015:
Conservatives’ new surplus forecast: $3.7-billion for election year
Ottawa’s fall economic update shows the government is counting on a surplus of at least $3.7-billion in 2015-16, the year of the next federal election.
A mix of spending cuts, public sector wage control and the sale of government assets are behind the latest government numbers, which show a better bottom line than the $800-million 2015-16 surplus forecast in the March budget. There are also several conservative assumptions in the numbers, meaning the surplus could easily come in higher than currently planned.
You’ll remember the 2011 election featured a swarm of promises by the Conservatives that would only come into being once the budget got back in black. As ridiculous as the “4-year IOU” was at the time, it now looks more and more like Flaherty’s pre-election budget will be one of the most voter-friendly in Canada’s history. Income splitting! An adult fitness tax credit! Double your TFSA space!
Which means the spring and summer of 2015 will feature a barrage of commercials (courtesy of the Government of Canada and taxpayers everywhere) touting these new initiatives, while Conservative Cabinet Ministers fan across the country to remind us it would not have been possible without Stephen Harper’s strong and steady leadership during this turbulent period. And, oh yeah, it could all be for naught if we take a risk on that pothead.
I would argue the narrative that Harper successfully guided Canada through the recession is mostly fiction – he inherited a surplus, became the largest spending Prime Minister in Canada’s history, and recent cuts make up only a very small percentage of the expected surplus. But fiction is what sells (Harper himself will realize this once the minuscule royalty cheques from his hockey book start trickling in). And fiction or not, the story Flaherty read today will be a lot more relevant to voters in 2015 than whatever happened with a few senators all the way back in 2013.
What’s interesting is that this story is largely cribbed from the Jean Chretien’s 2000 election playbook. Yes, the Liberals were dealing with scandals, voters were tiring of them, and the “succession question” loomed over everything. But Paul Martin’s budget and economic update offered what he dubbed in his usual understated manner as “the largest tax cuts in Canadian history”. The Liberals ran on their economic record, all the while painting Stockwell Day as a lightweight who wasn’t ready for prime time. The result was a crushing majority. Sound familiar?
Every election is unique, and voters have been known to turf leaders who led them through dark periods. Just look at Churchill after World War 2. But as bad a year as he’s had, Harper is quietly laying the groundwork for what figures to be a compelling election narrative in 2015.